The University of Bristol to lead regenerative material manufacturing
A seven-institution consortium, including the University of Bristol, has received £2.7mn (US$3.65mn) in funding from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council.
The consortium will be running the three year-long Manufacturing Immortality Project, which will conduct the development of new, self-healing materials, incorporating both biological and non-biological parts.
The materials will be designed for use in inaccessible places, such as deep-sea cables and radioactive sites.
Subsequent to more research, it is expected the materials could be used for consumer goods as well, such as self-healing screens for mobile phones.
The consortium also includes experts from the University of Manchester, University of Aberdeen, Sheffield Hallam University, Cranfield University, Lancaster University, and Northumbria University.
“This is a hugely exciting project that leverages the combined expertise of researchers across seven universities and 13 companies to deliver truly transformative self-healing technologies for use across a range of application areas,” commented Principal Investigator and a Biochemist at the University of Bristol, Dr Paul Race.
“The aim of the Manufacturing Immortality consortium is to create new materials which have the ability to regenerate – or are very difficult to break - by combining bio and non-biological composites, such as bacteria with ceramics, glass and electronics.
"This research has the potential to lead to some truly ground-breaking developments which could have a huge impact on our everyday lives – such as smartphone screens which have the ability to ‘self-heal’ if they are cracked or damaged.
“Our ultimate ambition it that the outcomes of this project will significantly contribute to positioning the UK as a world leader in innovative manufacturing technologies.”
Gartner: Leaders Lack Skilled Smart Manufacturing Workers
With organisations rapidly adopting industry 4.0 capabilities to increase productivity, efficiency, transparency, and quality as well as reduce cost, manufacturers “are under pressure to bring their workforce into the 21st century,” says Gartner.
While more connected factory workers are leveraging digital tools and data management techniques to improve decision accuracy, increase knowledge and lessen variability, 57% of manufacturing leaders feel that their organisations lack the skilled workers needed to support their smart manufacturing digitalisation plans.
“Our survey revealed that manufacturers are currently going through a difficult phase in their digitisation journey toward smart manufacturing,” said Simon Jacobson, Vice President analyst, Gartner Supply Chain practice.
“They accept that changing from a break-fix mentality and culture to a data-driven workforce is a must. However, intuition, efficiency and engagement cannot be sacrificed. New workers might be tech-savvy but lack access to best practices and know-how — and tenured workers might have the knowledge, but not the digital skills. A truly connected factory worker in a smart manufacturing environment needs both.”
Surveying 439 respondents from North America, Western Europe and APAC, Gartner found that “organisational complexity, integration and process reengineering are the most prevalent challenges for executing smart manufacturing initiatives.” Combined they represent “the largest change management obstacle [for manufacturers],” adds Gartner.
“It’s interesting to see that leadership commitment is frequently cited as not being a challenge. Across all respondents, 83% agree that their leadership understands and accepts the need to invest in smart manufacturing. However, it does not reflect whether or not the majority of leaders understand the magnitude of change in front of them – regarding technology, as well as talent,” added Jacobson.
Technology and People
While the value and opportunities smart manufacturing can provide an organisation is being recognised, introducing technology alone isn’t enough. Gartner emphasises the importance of evolving factory workers alongside the technology, ensuring that they are on board in order for the change to be successful.
“The most immediate action is for organisations to realize that this is more than digitisation. It requires synchronising activities for capability building, capability enablement and empowering people. Taking a ‘how to improve a day in the life’ approach will increase engagement, continuous learning and ultimately foster a pull-based approach that will attract tenured workers. They are the best points of contact to identify the best starting points for automation and the required data and digital tools for better decision-making,” said Jacobson.
Long term, “it is important to establish a data-driven culture in manufacturing operations that is rooted in governance and training - without stifling employee creativity and ingenuity,” concluded Gartner.